Fake news spreads faster than true news on Twitter—thanks to people, not bots
10 March, 2018, 02:11
The researchers were able to conduct a study of this breadth thanks to the business relationship between one of their number, Deb Roy, and Twitter, which provided its entire historical dataset at a steep discount.
False news-which the study defines as either inaccurate information presented as truth or opinion presented as fact-is on average about 70 percent more likely to be retweeted than information that faithfully reports actual events, the researchers found.
The study published Thursday is more wide-ranging: A team of researchers at MIT tracked falsehoods and truths using a database of every tweet written from 2006 to 2017.
The MIT team spent two years studying the role Twitter plays in spreading false news worldwide.
While the researchers make no judgement over whether this false news is believed by those humans who spread it or those who it reaches ("we did not get into the heads of those consuming or sharing false news", Aral says, ) the researchers speculate that the novelty factor of false newsstories may encourage its spread, when compared to mundane truths.
The growing stream of reporting on and data about fake news, misinformation, partisan content, and news literacy is hard to keep up with.
"People who share novel information are seen as being in the know", even if the information turns out to be false, Aral said.
"What we found was scary", says Aral.
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Vosoughi, Roy and Aral used this framework to map the spread of information on Twitter since its creation in 2006 all the way through to previous year.
"You can think of it kind of like making caloric information available to people so that they can make decisions as to what food to buy", he said.
He said he was unsure whether or not bots would be more prominent if the study had focused exclusively on political news.
Dr David Beer, a reader of sociology at the University of York, commented on the findings: "In those sorts of spaces, it is the things that immediately catch your attention and things that are surprising that are most likely to circulate". It reached more than 20,000 people almost three times faster than other types of false news reached half that many people.
Much of the reason why fakenews spreads so quickly was broken down into three categories. So not only were the retweet chains longer, but they were more likely to branch off into new chains.
So far, Twitter has mostly resisted being "the arbiters of truth", said Nick Pickles, Twitter's head of public policy for the United Kingdom. But, of course, Twitter won't do that. "But at the end of the day you're going to have to find a way to work with Facebook". Congress and the FBI are investigating evidence that Russian and other foreign users deliberately flooded social media with untrue reports and posts meant to mislead people about political candidates.
But social media serves as the currents in which false and misleading news is swept far and wide. "We share those concerns, but also realize any term describing this problem could be similarly weaponized".
Roy added that the researchers were "somewhere between surprised and stunned" at just how different the trajectories that true and fake news stories on Twitter take.
If a Twitter user had linked to a fact-checking organization's Web page, either to support or debunk a spreading rumor, the game was afoot. Everyday people who tend to tweet and retweet false information are the driving force here.
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